Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Friggin' Kettlebell Monster

  I recently got myself a kettlebell. If you've never heard of them they are awesome little pieces of excercise equipment. (And by 'little' I mean, they are relatively small in size, but not in weight. As far as workouts go they pack quite a punch!) Read about them here.

First, I picked up a 10 pounder one day on a whim. I'd been thinking about it for a while, then when I was out I saw some for a decent price so I picked up a 10 pounder. I really knew almost nothing about them yet except for what I'd seen in an infomercial that I watched for about 5 minutes. Once I got it home I did some research and decided that it wasn't quite heavy enough. Normally, when I do an excercise routine with a DVD (which I haven't done faithfully in many years) I used 5 and sometimes 8 pound hand weights depending on the exercise. But kettlebells are used differently. You generally aren't doing reps that isolate a single muscle or two at a time, you are doing exercises that use your entire body - your core muscles along with, say, your quadriceps and hamstrings and/or biceps or shoulders. So you can and should use a much heavier weight. For the basic swing exercise, it may look like a shoulder and arm excercise where you are lifting the kettlebell, but it's far from it. You aren't lifting - you're swinging the weight and using your hips to accomplish most of the action. (My thighs and butt will tell you how effective it is! They certainly tell me. Loudly! But really, now I can do a workout without getting uber sore. The first one though - whoa! I couldn't move for days!)

So, needless to say, after doing my research and deciding that I was in pretty decent shape I went with a 20 pounder. Now, all the DVDs you see show these fit women tossing around a 5-10 pounder, but the more hard-core fitness sites seemed to be under the consensus that a woman should start with at least 15 pounds, 20 if she's in good shape, or 26 if she's in phenomenal shape. Well, I'm in decent shape, but not phenomenal. So I got a 20 pounder. I found a site where I could order it online and they shipped it for FREE. Wow! 20 pounds of iron and they shipped it free! You can't go wrong there!

When that thing arrived at my doorstep I was a little intimidated. 20 pounds of shiny black metal is heavy! A lot heavier than a 5 pound hand weight. That's four bags of flour! (I bake a lot so that comparison works for me!)

I also picked up a copy of Kettlebells for Dummies. That has a good test to find the right size kettlebell. After trying the test I decided that 20 pounds was probably about right. Maybe a little heavy, but I figured better that than not heavy enough.

I also spent a little time on youtube. There are some great videos out there demonstrating the basic moves and it was a big help to see someone doing the movements right!
So far, after my first couple of weeks with this thing I'm doing great. I really enjoy it, I'm definately getting stronger and I haven't injured myself. I was a little worried about some of the movements at first. It takes a little while to get the techniques down and there were a few times where I started the movement, then said 'Holy crap! I can't do that with 20 pounds! But that was a couple of weeks ago and now I CAN do it with 20 pounds! Maybe not 20 reps. Maybe not even 10 reps, but certainly 3 or four to start with. I'll work up from there.

As far as the basic moves go, so far I have a pretty good handle on doing the 'clean' where you basically get the kettlebell up into a 'rack' position under your chin with your elbow bent and tucked into your side. It's not a curl, which would be very difficult to do more than a couple times with a 20 pound weight! There's a technique to it, that if done right, keeps you from injuring yourself and makes you feel pretty darn good for having done it right! :)

Then there's the 'snatch'. (Yes, that's what it's called. Don't blame me. I didn't name it!) I definitely need some work on that one. With a 20 pound weight I'm struggling with getting the movements right without hurting myself. I've done it a few times well and just need to practice, but getting that thing up where it's supposed to be, over my head, without smashing my arms to bloody bits is somewhat daunting. I can see where it's probably not that hard once you have the movements down, but getting the movements down with a 20 pound weight in your hands is a challenge. This is where it's helpful to have a lighter kettlebell to practice the movements with then move up to the heavier bell when I have it down.

I had some trouble in the beginning with mashing the front of my forearm with the bell, but I'm getting much better with that. I rarely slam it into my forearm any more. That kind of thing you tend to learn pretty quickly. The first few times aren't so bad, but after that, well, . . . It gets old really really fast.
There's the halo. That one's cool. No swinging or smashing. You hold it by the sides and just circle it around your head. A great exercise for not only arms and shoulders, but also your core muscles.

And then there's the Windmill and the Turkish Get-Up. (Other than the 'snatch' these exercises have some pretty cool names! It's much more fun to do an exercise if the name of the movements are fun, right? OK, so I'm easily amused. Anyway . . .) Both exercises involve some moving around while holding the kettlebell up over your head. It takes balance and core strength and a lot of shoulder control to keep the thing up there while moving yourself around. The TGU is a standard kettlebell exercise and it's pretty cool, but the first time I tried was not pretty. I ended up just putting the kettlebell down and practicing with no weights. After a day or so of that I was able to get the movements down and now I can do 4 on each side with the kettlebell before I stop.

The only warning I have (other than watching your forarms and not dropping it on yourself) is to make sure you have enough space to swing it! It doesn't take a lot of room, but you sure don't want to hit the TV with that thing! Or the kids. Or the cat. Or anything. 20 pounds is a force to be reckoned with when it's swinging around.

And, (best of all) this week I found the trick to making that 20 pound kettlebell seem so much lighter. Get a 35 pound bell. Yes. It works! You see, there are some kettlebell certifications and for that you (meaning me, a woman of my weight) would need to use a 35 pound bell. So, whether I ever get certified or not I decided to get the 'official' size. Holy cow! That's one heavy piece of iron! Just carrying it from the back of the store up to the front had me out of breath with muscles trembling and sweat dripping down my face. I'm able to do some of the exercises with it, but not all. For the ones I can't quite manage yet (anything that involves lifting it over my head) I go back to the 20 pounder and it feels so light that it makes me giggle. Really. If I ever get to
the point where I can actually do 100 snatches with the 35 kettlebell I will officially be a monster. That's right. A friggin' kettlebell monster. It's good to have goals.

So, if you're looking for something to try - this is it. It doesn't involve any equipment other than one kettlebell (you can use two, but really only need one), it's a super workout and it's fun. Try it!


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